Heroes Remember Bataan March

16,000 soldiers walked the 85 miles but 863 never came home

 

NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw

 

Ralph Rodriguez Jr.
Nightly News Photo

NEW YORK, JUL. 24, 2000 — It is a story of incredible courage under fire, but the battle never got its due in history because the world was watching something else. It’s taken 50 years for one hero’s story to come forward.

The date was December 7th, 1941. A battle often chronicled is the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But the next morning, a south Pacific sunrise over the Philippines would bring forth another horrible battle — fought by often forgotten heroes.

“It’s never been really told,” said Bataan Memorial Museum’s Rick Padilla.

Just the names of the American soldiers who fought to defend the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines help tell the story.

Names such as Chito Sanchez, Reno Montoya and Ralph Rodriguez, who was 21 then, 83 today.

“I remember looking at the planes coming in — so I started counting them,” said Rodriguez, “and I counted 52.”

The Japanese were attacking medic Ralph Rodriguez and the 1800 members of his regiment.

More than one-third of those courageous men were Mexican-American. Many of them had come straight from the New Mexico National Guard.

“A lot of heroes came out of that — a lot of ‘em,” Padilla said.

Pinned down, the members of the 200th Coast Artillery regiment fought with little food, ammunition or medicine — 70 percent caught malaria.

Finally surrendering, Rodriguez became one of the 16,000 soldiers forced to walk 85 miles — the Bataan Death March.

 

March to prison camp

 

“The people started falling off the road,” Rodriguez said.

The penalty for exhaustion was execution by an enemy guard.

“He stabbed him and then kicked him, rolled him over,” he said.

The march killed 10,000. At the end of their journey was a brutal prison camp. The weak were taken away.

“They would put ‘em in the zero ward, they called it,” said Rodriguez. “From there, they took the bodies every day for burial.”

“All the red dots that you see on this board here means that they were either killed in action or died as a result of being a prisoner of war,” Padilla said.

Three years later and more than 30 pounds lighter, Rodriguez and some fellow Hispanic heroes were finally rescued.

“It was the same thing every day,” he said. “Nothing other than work, or trying to survive or trying to help.”

Ironically, to escape they would march for miles through the night.

Distinguished Hispanic-American soldiers have long fought to keep their country free — none more courageous than the 1800 who fought in Bataan.

“We were sent to do a job,” Rodriguez said.

Certainly, there were none braver than the 863 who never came home.